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5 min read

Tripling down on a failed housing model

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The rezoning application for the 13-storey, 140 social housing unit tower at 2086-2098 W. 7th and 2091 W.8th was submitted to the City in October 2021. The Urban Design Panel (UDP) took place on Nov 10th, where the project was reviewed and accepted unanimously by panel members. This is a summary of the application details.

Key rezoning data

Key Rezoning application data:

  • Requires rezoning the site from RM-4 (Residential) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District
  • 13-storey, 140 Social Housing Units
  • Net Floor Area 7,948 sq.m (85,551 sq.ft)
  • Building Height 50 m (164 ft) including architectural screen, 46.5 m (152.5 ft) to top of the parapet
  • 5 Vehicle parking spaces (at grade)
  • 140 in-suite bicycle parking spaces, 14 Off-street bicycle spaces
  • Site Area: 1,146 square metres
  • 64% of Site Coverage
  • Proposed FSR: 4.42


  • Setback at Arbutus St (West): Level 1 at Grade: 0.83m (2.7 ft or 33”) to the property line, Level 2 and above: 0m to the property line
  • Setback on Greenway (East): 4.5m (14.76 ft)
  • Setback on 8th Ave (South): 0.25m (0.8 ft or 10”)
  • Setback on 7th Ave (North): 0.30m (1 ft or 12”)

Low-barrier supportive housing, not social housing

What is apparent on the ShapeYourCity website and the Rezoning sign on the site is the indication of “Social Housing” instead of “Supportive Housing”. When the project was first announced in the pre-rezoning phase back in March 2021, the term “Supportive Housing” was used and carries a much different definition than the way the City defines Social Housing. This lack of clarity by the City has been perceived as confusing or misleading to many and yet it has not been remedied. In fact, it appears that it is being exploited by the City to further its agenda.

Dramatically higher density

The project fly-through from the applicant shows the sheer size of the proposed building development that is out of scale and dwarfs surrounding buildings in the community. Aside from a couple of 6 to 8 storey buildings along W. Broadway, there are no buildings taller than 4 storeys within a 7 block radius.

To provide full context, Kitsilano, where this building is being proposed, falls under the RM-4 district zoning, characterized typically by low-rise rental apartments, co-op and seniors housings, multiplex homes and townhouses. The proposed building will also be located across the street from an elementary school & preschool to the west, from a popular park with a playground to the north, the Arbutus Greenway to the east, and the future Translink bus terminal to the south. There are nearby mixed-use commercial and residential low-rises from W. Broadway to the south and W. 4th to the north.

The neighbourhood currently provides equitable access to views and light for people who work and live in the area. The RM-4 zoning allows for building height limitations of 3-4 storeys or 35.1 ft. as per the Broadway-Arbutus Policies 2004 when this project came up during Pre-Rezoning in March 2021. This proposal is more than 4.5 times the height of current buildings in the area, which is illustrated in the applicant’s Rezoning Site Section drawing.

At the same time, the RM-4 zoning for floor space ratio (FSR) is 0.75, which makes this proposal 5.6 times the current density allowed which is huge. Cities are zoned with specific guidelines in place to ensure the character of the neighbourhood.

Equivalent height to 18 storey residential towers

It was discovered upon closer analysis by a City Hall Watch article that the over-height of floors actually equates to 18-storey residential buildings instead of the proposed 13-storeys, due to the floor-to-floor over-height of 11’-5” instead of the typical residential condo which has approximately 9’-0” floor-to-floor heights.

If conventional floor-to-floor heights were used, there actually would be a reduction of 32 ft. from the overall building height. From a design perspective, the over height would create a silo effect in the living spaces. These small narrow rooms are intended to be a space for healing and recovery, which may, in fact, do the opposite.

Going above typical clear ceiling heights of 8’-1” would also run counter to the City’s own climate emergency goals. There would be a need for additional heating and air conditioning for the extra volume of space. The increased height means an increased building envelope, which equates to increased construction costs and energy costs.

Incomplete shadow studies

Bike storage has been planned to be in-suite instead of a bike locker, which would be a maintenance and upkeep concern. The applicant has not indicated the location of the required public bike parking.
The shadow studies do not show the other half of the year (October to Feb). This would have shown the elementary school, their schoolyard and preschool, in shadow during the mornings in most of the school year. We believe the children deserve better. The omitted shadow studies also would have allowed us to understand the shadow effects and impacts on Delamont Park, adjacent residential co-op buildings and women’s shelter. The neighbourhood deserves better. The impacts of shadows of this proposed building should not be downplayed or ignored like so many other projects have had to contend with. It is not clear why this project would be allowed to have special treatment.

The setbacks are extremely shallow, as illustrated in the landscape plan drawing L1.10; it appears the building is right up against the sidewalk. The building takes up most of the property area, and the City should be questioned if this is appropriate. The limited transitional distance from the street to the physical building is questionable. This negligible distance should be addressed by a landscape architect or urban planner.

Attempts to mitigate risks posed by the residents

The building has no balconies for residents, which appears to be typical for supportive housing throughout the city. However, it was only during the UDP meeting when panel members questioned the reason for the lack of balconies for the residents, and it was stated that having balconies would pose a health risk for this resident group. Also, it was noted that there were no ground-level outdoor amenity spaces or windows with views at the ground plane due to complex mental and health issues posed by the future residents.

Dealing with new congestion

The Arbutus Street traffic is extremely heavy during school morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times. Having the building driveway off Arbutus Street for loading vehicles, including delivery, waste management trucks, and emergency call vehicles will exacerbate the problem. This should be addressed by the City’s Engineering department.

Contending with the lack of good faith and transparency

This rezoning application was not presented in good faith. Shadow studies could have been more forthcoming, potential traffic congestion issues, questionable building heights, and over densification on a proportionally small site with setbacks contravening the current neighbourhood plan.